A happy side effect of app stores and the web in general is that feedback ratings on a product are no longer difficult to find. There was a time not long ago when a consumer would need to turn to a respected source, such as Consumer Reports, to get a general consensus of quality for all but the most ubiquitous and popular products. Such a world, where information is funneled through a few curators, is one ripe for “reputation management.”
In theory, to optimize the perceived quality of your brand, all you would need to do as a company providing a product or service was:
- build to the desires of the known entities who will be doing the evaluating
- or figure out how to skirt the evaluation process while still presenting an air of broad market approval
- or establish a relationship with the people doing the evaluating to ensure friendly terms
- or even more unsavory behavior
But in a world where every potential customer is also a potential reviewer of your product/service, such brand management tactics lose some of their efficacy. To be sure, a fair amount of the behaviors mentioned above still happen, but they are not as universally effective as in days past.
One of the new realities we as product creators are faced with is that universal cultural approval, at least as we came to understand it over the last 50-odd years, is something largely unattainable. Nothing ever truly had this type of universal appeal, but the difference is that now every critic has, at least potentially, as loud of a voice in the conversation as the traditional curators do.
This is a good thing. Focus-grouped products engineered for mass appeal, be they music, literature, software, movies, or television, are, generally speaking, lowest-common-denominator creations…things without soul, passion, or inspiration because they are so deliberately engineered to speak to so many people. They are built to appeal to everyone in a shallow way and are done so to such a degree that they ultimately speak to no individual in a meaningful way at all. That intimacy has literally been factored out of their very being.
But one odd effect of this mass availability of opinion is that such a world can be crippling for those product creators starting out and looking to become established. “What if we get a bad review early? What if someone hates it?” The old answer was to quietly address the complaints of the people who hate it through largely private communication. The new answer is a little more nuanced.
You still have to address the complaints, but now we do so much more publicly. This requires a thicker skin than in years past. Part of serving our customers now involves owning up to our mistakes or misjudgments in the open. The process of managing the perceived quality of your brand has shifted from crafting a potentially artificial image of “everything is great all of the time” to one of concentrating on the good while acknowledging the slip ups and working diligently to ensure the good far outweighs the missteps. “Yes, a few people hate it. Let’s concentrate on keeping it just a few people.”
Acknowledging missteps can be a very stressful thing, especially for those striving to establish themselves. A single negative opinion can feel like the end of the world when you’re fighting so hard just to get attention. It’s hard not imagine all of the potentially negative things that could result from a bad review. But you can’t let yourself get trapped focusing on the “what-if”s that may or may not come about because of something you truly cannot prevent.
If you receive a bad review, you got a bad review, and you have to deal with it. Pay attention to it. Listen to what the customer is saying. If they are asking for something reasonable, something completely within your vision for the product, then there is no reason not to give them what they want, especially if it’s easy to do. Start a conversation with the customer and come up with a plan for addressing the things they don’t like. Attentively responding to customer feedback is surprisingly effective at fending off the scary consequences of a poor review.
But this doesn’t mean that you should blindly defer to the opinions and desires of every person who comments on what you are doing. If you built a Volkswagen and a customer is complaining that it’s not a Cadillac, that’s not necessarily an indicator that there is something wrong with your product. They may just be trying to get a Cadillac below cost. The same rule applies doubly if you built a boat and someone complains that it’s not an airplane. In these cases, the problem you should address is likely not your product itself but how you are positioning it within the market.
You cannot please everyone. You just can’t. If you came of age in the time when all opinions you heard in media mattered, then this feels very wrong. And you’ll want to fix every complaint from people you don’t know right away and completely. But you’ll also be lapped productivity-wise by those who’s attitude largely boils down to: “Yeah, there’s one guy in Idaho who hates what we’re doing. Thank goodness that almost all of our other customers love what we’re doing.”
In today’s world, a perfect 5 star rating is nearly impossible at any scale that would represent success. You have to be okay with a few people who don’t like how you built your product. Know in advance someone will be a real jerk about your creation. Concentrate on building something that will average a better than four-star rating, factoring in the cranks who will positively hate how you designed your product no matter what you create, especially those who don’t understand what you built.
If you do an exceptional job, you may even average 4.9 stars and become a legitimate hit. Even if you don’t, you’ll likely build something you, as the creator, have greater faith in. And that matters much more than the opinion of that one guy in Idaho.